Biophilic design - What is it?

Feeling stressed and fatigued? it could be that you subconsciously need to reconnect with nature- tough to do when you live in the city, but Biophilic design can help

By Greer Krige

Biophilia is a philosophy founded by biologist Edward. O Wilson in the early 1980’s and in essence refers to human beings having an innate affinity for the natural world. And in fact, it has been found that Biophilic design supports mental, physical and psychological wellbeing as well as promoting overall health and wellness.

Considering we spend up to 90% of our day indoors this can have a very important effect on us. Sick building syndrome is a real thing- synthetic materials, lack of fresh air and only artificial light- lead to poor concentration, fatigue, and illness. In office environments, this can affect productivity and absenteeism levels and impact negatively on the bottom line.

Biophilic design has become increasingly popular with big brands like Google and Adidas drawing on it for their headquarters and schools and hospitals are reaping the benefits too. And with many people now working from home- it would be wise to consider it for your home too.

So what is biophilic design?

Interior design and architecture that centres around the incorporation of natural elements such as plants, water, natural lighting and ventilation into the modern built environments- In a nutshell- less concrete and more green. A more mindful design movement.

Ideally, it creates a closer relationship with nature - city life deprived us of this proximity so in this way nature is deliberately incorporated into the design to recreate the natural association.

Globally you will notice more and more green areas appearing in the cityscapes: courtyards, atriums, rooftop gardens, vertical gardens and so on. 

The Biophilic Cities Project, Terrapin Bright Green who has integrated biophilic design in projects ranging from resorts to the Pentagon, and other studies from across the world have highlighted certain principles of biophilic design:

A happy work place

Biophilic design creates healthy, happy work environments and workers: The incorporation of natural or aspects that mimic natural systems indicates decreased stress levels, enhanced creativity, and quicker recovery from illness. 

Biophilia is not just about plants

Although central to this, is the rise in popularity of indoor plants many of which are believed to help purify the air and aid concentration. The most efficient at this are the Snake plant, Peace lily, Areca palm, Aloe vera and English Ivy for a multitude of reasons including removal of toxins and airborne pollutants from the air to lowering blood pressure and having a calming, de-stressing effect. In addition, most are pretty easy to maintain, even if you don’t necessarily have green fingers.

Further to that is how we respond to biomorphic patterns and arrangements seen in nature- our brains associate them with representations of living things such as the Fibonacci sequence in leaf arrangements on a step and spirals patterns. 

Snake plant, Biophilia, Bophilic design
Peace lily, Biophilia, Bophilic design
Areca palm Biophilia, Bophilic design

Light is a part of our natural rhythm

Maximizing natural light is best- windows and fresh air- better for our eyes and minds which are overstimulated by blue light from electronics and screens. Natural light is best but an artificial lighting system that is designed to adjust throughout the day to mimic our circadian rhythm keeps us in our natural 24-hour cycle. 

Fresh Air

Fresh air and ventilation are vital for good health, so throw open a window! But this isn’t always possible. Also, although it might seem best to keep a constant indoor temperature, it has been shown that variations in airflow and temperature can enhance cognition and performance.

The importance of water

Biophilic design interventions that bring water into a space, are believed to have a calming effect and actually lower blood pressure and heart rate, some examples of how this can be added are with a water feature or an aquarium.


For biophilic design to be most effective it needs to be immersive- not just the addition of a pot plant or two. A genuine connection with nature or authentic mimicry needs to be experienced. So, a multi-sensory approach is best: For example- seeing images of nature and greenery from plants, feeling a breeze through changing airflow rhythms, hearing water trickling and smelling the scent of plants and flowers.

It comes down to the belief that we are natural beings and subconsciously yearn for contact with nature while we live and work in built up environments. This lack of connection with natural elements has had a negative effect on health and wellbeing, and the addition of Biophilic design into a space can have incredible benefits on all facets of health and wellness.